by Tony Sciarini

His name was Harold. Tall, thin, and disheveled, he was sitting alone on a bench near the downtown movie theater, extending his empty Starbucks cup while asking for change. Later, he told Dennis he looked like the "married-with-kids" type, which is ostensibly why Harold asked him. After he told Harold he wouldn't give money, Dennis asked him if he was hungry. He said yes, so Dennis said he'd get him something to eat and be back. Surprised by this, Harold asked where he'd go, then remembered there was a McDonald's nearby. He then asked if Dennis would mind if he came with him, being that the homeless shelter he used was just past the restaurant. Perhaps Dennis was unwise to do this, but something in him told him this guy was okay. Harold's direct, unassuming manner gave Dennis the sense that he truly only wanted to get home on a full stomach. More importantly, Dennis was bigger than Harold, so he thought he could take him if anything happened. In the first moments of their subsequent conversation, it became clear that Harold was not only cognizant, but friendly. Dennis felt the latter enough to ask about Harold's circumstances, and Harold let him see a little into his life. A veteran at least in his fifties, with most of his family elsewhere in the country, Harold really had no one to turn to. It wasn't as if he'd ask for it, anyway. He knew of a few family members nearby, and mentioned offhandedly that they knew where he was. The drive to McDonald's was quiet, for the most part. Later, though, waiting at the drive-through for his chicken sandwich (extra mayonnaise) and fries, Harold told Dennis that he had been married at one time, admitting he only wed to know what it was like. Harold turned at times, too, to ask his own questions. Probably the most meaningful one came when-- with a slight reservedness-- he asked why Dennis agreed to take him for food. It was then that he revealed, if only for a moment, a vulnerability that Dennis would remember more than anything else when thinking of him. It was as if Harold wanted to hear that he was a good man at heart, as if there was something in his past looming over him. Dennis believed he would never see Harold again, but Harold was a reminder to him that all people want-- need-- dignity in their lives. Dennis knew that one cannot summarize a life in so many words, or get a "feel" for a person's true identity with a simple twenty-minute interaction; but it seemed that despite the poverty, Harold had retained his wholeness. Ironically, that dignity and wholeness could be found most visibly in his humility, his willingness to see his past as a learning opportunity. Harold was someone Dennis would remember when he returned to that theater, and the lesson Harold taught him is something he would recall when faced with his own challenges.

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